When Brian Mattar lines up in the Providence High backfield, his 5-foot-7, 155-pound stature is not likely to intimidate opposing defenses.
But the Panthers’ senior tailback has proven his size doesn’t matter over the past three seasons, rushing for more than 2,000 yards and 20 touchdowns.
Mattar, who just turned 19, has been clocked as fast as 4.37 seconds in the 40-yard dash at Appalachian State’s football camp this past summer.
After rushing for 985 yards and 12 touchdowns as a junior in 2013, earning All-SoMeck 8 conference honors, he is on-pace for a career year in his final season.
Mattar has rushed for 843 yards and eight scores through his first seven games this season, averaging a career-best 8.2 yards per carry and 120.4 yards per game. All this has been a big factor in the Panthers’ 6-1 start (through Oct. 16), including 3-0 in SoMeck 8.
“I’ve always been one of the smallest guys on the field, but to me size is just a number,” said Mattar, who started playing football when he was 6 in his native Miami. “Once I get on the field, I always try to use my speed to my advantage and blow by someone, or make a quick cut and juke a defender. They’ll figure out that I’m a threat, but I like when people underestimate me.”
“Brian is a difference-maker for us, and on every play he touches the ball you know he can take it to the house,” Providence High football coach Justin Hardin said. “But he’s also pound-for-pound one of the toughest players on our team, too. He can run inside or outside, return kicks and he is a great cornerback (Mattar had 54 tackles in 2013) if we needed him there.”
Mattar saw very little playing time as a freshman on varsity in 2011, playing only late in a few games. He was the primary backup to Giovanni Gonzales as a sophomore and showed flashes of what he could do under then coach Randy Long.
But under Hardin the past two years, Mattar has evolved into a different player.
“At first, I was so eager to use my speed that I would just go full speed all the time,” said Mattar, also an All-SoMeck 8 performer in track and the reigning 200 meters league champion. “But I’ve learned to be a more patient runner, let the blocks happen, see the hole and then burst through them. I’ve learned to use different gears at different times.”
Mattar has had five 100-plus yard games, including a season-best 167 yards and two touchdowns on just 10 carries against Berry. Mattar broke off an 80-yard touchdown run in that game and also had a 72-yard touchdown catch against East Mecklenburg.
Mattar is a humble player quick to credit teammates like senior quarterback Caleb York (1,039 yards passing, 407 yards rushing) and his offensive line.
Mattar and York have grown together in the Providence High system and helped the team go 14-6 during the past two seasons. They also benefit from an offensive line that includes five seniors: center Jackson Boguski, guards Jacob Bernstein and Grant Dixon and tackles Brock Lunde and Benjamin Tomerlin.
“We’ve been through a lot together over the years here,” Mattar said. “The first two years, we really didn’t play up to what we were capable, but I think the last two seasons we are starting to play to our potential, and it feels great to be able to do that as seniors.”
Mattar said he hopes he can keep playing in college, and he’s being recruited by schools including Charlotte, Furman, Johnson C. Smith and several Division II schools.
Mattar also plays showcase baseball as a centerfielder and shortstop and says he would love to play college baseball as well. While he has never played baseball at Providence High, he plans to join the team this spring.
No matter what Mattar ends up doing, Hardin said, he believes Mattar will be successful.
“If Brian was 6-foot, 220 pounds, he’d probably be getting recruited by every football team in the country,” Hardin said. “But wherever he goes, somebody is going to get a great player and a great kid. He’s just one of those guys who goes about his business and all the coaches and players love him and respect him.
“He’s one of those guys that everyone is cheering for.”